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Title: Accelerated river avulsion frequency on lowland deltas due to sea-level rise

Sea-level rise, subsidence, and reduced fluvial sediment supply are causing river deltas to drown worldwide, affecting ecosystems and billions of people. Abrupt changes in river course, called avulsions, naturally nourish sinking land with sediment; however, they also create catastrophic flood hazards. Existing observations and models conflict on whether the occurrence of avulsions will change due to relative sea-level rise, hampering the ability to forecast delta response to global climate change. Here, we combined theory, numerical modeling, and field observations to develop a mechanistic framework to predict avulsion frequency on deltas with multiple self-formed lobes that scale with backwater hydrodynamics. Results show that avulsion frequency is controlled by the competition between relative sea-level rise and sediment supply that drives lobe progradation. We find that most large deltas are experiencing sufficiently low progradation rates such that relative sea-level rise enhances aggradation rates—accelerating avulsion frequency and associated hazards compared to preindustrial conditions. Some deltas may face even greater risk; if relative sea-level rise significantly outpaces sediment supply, then avulsion frequency is maximized, delta plains drown, and avulsion locations shift inland, posing new hazards to upstream communities. Results indicate that managed deltas can support more frequent engineered avulsions to recover sinking land; however, there more » is a threshold beyond which coastal land will be lost, and mitigation efforts should shift upstream.

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Authors:
; ;
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10171323
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Volume:
117
Issue:
30
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 17584-17590
ISSN:
0027-8424
Publisher:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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